Riding into Rodriganda

Chapter 1, The Rodriganda Romances

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Excerpt from: The Rodriganda Romances

Adaptation of Das Waldroeschen; anticipated End 2017

Chapter 1: Manresa (Prelude)

The Letter

From the southern foothills of the Pyrenees, a rider came trotting towards the famous old town of Manresa. He rode an unusually strong mule, which had its good reasons, because the man was tall and muscular. The expression in the young man’s open, trustworthy face, however, reassured everyone who looked at him that he would not permit himself to misuse his extraordinary strength.

Although the facial features pointed to the fact that he was not a southerner, his face was nevertheless deeply tanned; his eyes possessed that particularly keen, sweeping, penetrating gaze found only on mariners, prairie hunters, or otherwise widely travelled men.

He appeared to be around twenty-eight years old; despite his youth, he radiated a particular touch of calm, experience, and confidence that endows a human being with an air of maturity beyond his age. The French-styled suit was made from fine fabrics, yet comfortable. A saddlebag was fastened at the back of his saddle; it seemed to contain precious items, for occasionally he reflexively reached back to ascertain that it was still in its place.

By the time he arrived in Manresa, the late September day had already progressed to early evening. He rode between the old walls and narrow alleys until he reached a plaza where he noticed a tall house with gold lettering above the door, which read Hotel Rodriganda. Judging by the speed of his ride, he had not intended to stop in Manresa; however, when he read the plaque, he directed his animal towards the gate of the hotel and dismounted.

As soon as he was standing on the ground, his imposing appearance could be fully appreciated. Although his herculean figure was conspicuous at first glance, the handsome harmony of his physique, which softened the first impression, also immediately awoke feelings of admiration, respect, and friendly empathy in those who met him.

Several servants rushed up to take charge of his animal, as well as him. He left the mule to them, and entered the noble establishment. The innkeeper and one patron were present; when the rider entered, he greeted:

Buenas tardes.[1]

“Buenas tardes, buenas tardes,” the other two replied.

“I’m the innkeeper. Does the senor wish to have lodgings here?” the man behind the counter asked while he cast a longer than usual gaze at the tall stranger.

“No; I’ll have some food and a vino regio,[2]” the man replied, and ignored the innkeeper’s look; strangers were often looked over a little more closely than the locals.

The host gave the required orders to the serving staff, and then asked:

“Do you wish to stay in Manresa for the night?”

“I’ll ride to Rodriganda. How far is it to there?”

“You will arrive in one hour, senor. It appeared as though you intended to ride past my hotel.”

“Indeed,” the stranger replied. “The name on your shield held me back. Why did you name your house Hotel Rodriganda?”

“Because I was the count’s servant for many years, and in his father’s employ before that, and it is only thanks to Don Emanuel’s benevolence that I was able to build this house.”

“Ah, you must therefore be familiar with the count’s circumstances.”

“Indeed, I am.”

“I’m a physician, and am about to introduce myself to him. I would appreciate the opportunity to find my bearings ahead of it. What kinds of people would I make the acquaintance with on Castillo[3] Rodriganda?”

Contrary to the customary Spanish aloofness the host seemed to be an open-hearted man, and perhaps he also liked to break the lonely afternoon with a conversation. He readily replied:

“I’m more than happy to give you information, senor. I hear by your accent that you’re a stranger. Did the ailing count call you to visit?”

The stranger hesitated with the answer, and then said:

“You’ve almost guessed it. I’m German, and my name is Dr Sternau; a short while ago, I received a request to come to Rodriganda as soon as possible.”

“Ah, so! Perhaps you will find that the count is no longer among the living.”

“Why?”

“He has been suffering from an affliction of the eyes for years; it finally resulted in complete blindness, so the doctors say, and a short time ago, he also contracted a terrible lithiasis[4]. Aside from being extremely painful, it has also become life threatening. Only an operation can help him. He agreed to undergo it, and has called on the services of two of the most famous surgeons, but found unexpected opposition in his only daughter, Contessa Rosa. The doctors, however, could wait no longer, and yesterday, I heard that the cut will be executed today.”

“Oh, no! I’ve come too late!” the stranger exclaimed, and jumped from his seat. “I must get away immediately. Perhaps there is still time!”

“Hardly, senor. No doctor will make such a cut at dusk. If the operation took place today, then it is already over. Besides, it is possible that they delayed it. The contessa repeatedly asked them to hold off, day by day, against the advice of the doctors, and the wishes of the count and his son.”

“Count Emanuel de Rodriganda y Seville has a son?”

“Yes, only one: Count Alfonzo. He has spent a great many years in Mexico, where the Rodrigandas own extensive, valuable estates. The young count has been called home perhaps six months ago, when Emanuel de Rodriganda’s eyesight had deteriorated to complete blindness, and he will now be present during the operation. The procedure could result in his father’s death. Of course, Count Emanuel has prepared his testament beforehand.”

“Who else is on Castillo Rodriganda, aside from the count and his two children?”

“Firstly, there is Senora Clarissa, a distant relative of the family. She is the Mother Superior of the Carmelite convent in Zaragoza; she became the duenna[5] of the young countess when her mother died. Sister Clarissa is very devout; but Contessa Rosa does not love her. Secondly, there is Senor Gasparino Cortejo. He is an advocate and notary here in Manresa, but regularly visits Castillo Rodriganda, because Don Emanuel has employed him as the manager of his estates. He is also very pious, as well as exceedingly proud. In addition, I could also mention the good castellan[6] Juan Alimpo and his wife Elvira. Both are very loyal and decent people, and I can only recommend them to you. Except for the usual workers, there is no one else, since the count lives a very private life.”

“Do you perhaps know someone by the name of Mindrello?”

“Oh, every child knows him. Mindrello is a poor but honest devil who is suspected of being a smuggler occasionally; hence he’s usually referred to as Mindrello the contrabandier. But you can fully trust him. He is a better man than many who despise him.”

“Thank you, senor! After all I have heard from you, I must not delay my ride any longer. Buenas noches![7]

“Buenas noches, senor! I wish that you’re not too late.”

Dr Sternau paid for what he had consumed, asked for his mule, mounted up, and rode away at a gallop.

The day came to an end; he would not reach Rodriganda before nightfall. While the light-footed mule raced along the country road, its rider reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out a folded piece of paper. The fact that it was tattered evidenced that Sternau had read it repeatedly; nevertheless, he unfolded it again, and for the hundredth time read the lines, written by a beautiful, firm woman’s hand:

Dr Karl Sternau, Rue Vaugirard 24, Paris

My Friend!

We said farewell for life; however, events prompted me to send to you my desperate wish to see you here. You must save Count Rodriganda’s life. Please come quickly, and bring your instruments. Take lodging with Mindrello, the contrabandier, and ask for me. But I plead with you to come very quickly!

Rosita

After he had yet again read the letter, he folded it and returned it to his pocket. He was riding through a dense oak forest, but he neither saw the oaks, nor the path they framed. The memories of the hour in Paris, during which he had first met the writer of the letter, came flooding into his mind.

It was in the Jardin des Plantes. He walked around a bosquet[8], to sit on the bench on the other side, and found it already occupied. He attempted to retreat, but his astonishment at the charm of the young lady, into whose solitude he had intruded, made it impossible for him to leave; he felt captivated to almost a point of confusion. She rose from the bench, and at that point, Sternau was face to face with a beauty of such perfection he would not have thought possible. He, the experienced man, the physician, felt his pulse freeze momentarily, only for his heart to drive the blood with tenfold speed to his temples and cheeks. That hour had decided his fate—as well as hers.

They loved each other with unspeakable passion, but also with deep sadness. He was permitted to only meet her in that particular garden. She informed him that she was the companion of Contessa Rosa de Rodriganda, who had travelled to Paris with her blind father, and that, for reasons she kept to herself, she had sworn to remain unmarried. He felt blissfully happy from delight about her reciprocal love, but almost mad from pain about her unshakable decision, which he was unable to fathom or comprehend. He begged and pleaded, he besieged her; she cried and remained steadfast.

Then, she departed, and made him promise that he would never make enquiries about her. They had said farewell for this lifetime, in order to find each other again in another world in perfect bliss. He had been permitted to embrace her, and to press his lips onto hers only the once; yet that delight was drowned out by the pain of separation, and since that time, he had been doing battle with the agony that gnawed at his heart, and sank its claws into his life; he was not victorious.

The magnificent creature he had held, and then lost, occupied his thoughts during the day, and his dreams at night.

Although he hoped that his heart would one day find peace, he also knew that a future peace would have to be paid for with a large part of his life.

And unexpectedly he received such a letter. He read it, and felt a quiver surge through all the fibers of his body. Without asking or hesitating, he immediately packed the necessities, and followed the call of the precious woman. She may have been a mere lady-in-waiting, the companion of a duchess, but she had met him like a lovely, supernatural creature, like a fairy whose eyes occasionally shine onto the life of a mere mortal, like a glimpse from the Heavenly realms. And when the fairy called, he obeyed. He dashed across all of France; in a hasty rush he crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, and at last, he was approaching his destination, where he would see her again, the magnificent, incomparable girl to whom he was devoted with his entire soul, body and life. His mule’s gallop was still too slow for him; he drove it to greater speed, and just when the sun dipped below the western heights, he rode into the village of Rodriganda.

[1] Good Afternoon

[2] Regional wine, table wine, local wine.

[3] Castle

[4] Any number of calculi (stone / concretion of material) ailments (gall, kidney, bladder, etc).

[5] Chaperone

[6] (Hist.) governor of a castle.

[7] Good night.

[8] Formal planting of at least five identical trees, as a quincunx (like the number ‘5’ on a die or playing card), in a French formal garden.

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